In their interviews with authorities, Cynthia Baker’s children described a home where Baker punched, whipped and tortured 8-year-old Rica Rountree, according to testimony Thursday at Baker’s murder trial.
The 43-year-old Normal woman is charged with beating the child and causing the abdominal injuries that killed her.
On Day 3 of the trial, jurors spent about four hours watching Baker’s interview with Normal police detective Kendra DeRosa.
Baker denied punching or kicking Rica, who was the daughter of her boyfriend, Richard Rountree. When asked if she had regrets about her interactions with Rica, Baker told the investigator, “I loved her like my own child.”
Baker had no explanation as to why her three children would have told DeRosa on Jan. 26—the day Rica died at a Peoria hospital—about alleged past corporal punishment of Rica by Baker.
“I have no idea why they said that,” said Baker during the first of two interviews.
As the questioning progressed, Baker admitted she had forced Rica to stand while holding canned goods and hit her with a belt.
Earlier Thursday, jurors heard from Baker’s 7-year-old daughter.
Dressed in a plaid shirt, pants and sneakers, the young witness repeated accusations she first relayed in an interview at the Children's Advocacy Center shortly after Rica’s death.
Baker wiped tears as her daughter walked towards the witness stand. The child smiled broadly at her mother before answering questions for about 30 minutes.
The girl told Assistant State’s Attorney Erika Reynolds she witnessed Baker kick Rica in the stomach on multiple occasions. During one incident, Baker kicked Rica as the 8-year-old was on the floor and Baker was sitting on the couch, the child testified.
After Rica hit her head on a TV stand, Baker “started laughing at her” and kicked her in the stomach again, said the witness.
In her testimony, the child recalled waking up one day and finding Rica gone from the room the two shared. She found her sibling in Baker’s bedroom.
“I opened the door and she was whooping her with a belt,” the girl said of her mother’s discipline of Rica.
When asked why Rica no longer lives on the home, the girl recalled the day in late January 2019 when she was unable to wake Rica.
“She had big eyes ... she didn’t feel good,” she said.
Emergency Surgery in Peoria
The blow that caused Rica’s internal injuries likely occurred several days before doctors were summoned to save her, a surgeon testified Thursday.
Dr. Charles Aprahamiam, chief of pediatric surgery at OSF HealthCare Children’s Hospital of Illinois in Peoria, performed emergency surgery in the child’s room.
“She was dying,” said the doctor, as medical staff scurried to reverse the sepsis that had filled the child’s stomach.
“I’ve only seen that in blunt force abdominal trauma,” the doctor told jurors.
The trial continues Friday with forensic pathologist Dr. Scott Denton among the witnesses.
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